In our series “Who wrote the Bible” we come to the book of Daniel. It will be our introduction to the apocalyptic genre. There were earlier signs of apocalypticism in several older prophecies, but for the most part the book of Daniel is considered the beginning of the biblical apocalyptic genre - those expressionistic, ear-catching prophetic revelations how history is progressing towards the end. Daniel is an excellent early example of it, and as a book it is highly unusual, a book itself that was written in several languages, but also extremely problematic.
Already in the ancient times, around the year 300 CE a Greek Philosopher Porphyry of Tire pointed out historical and authorship problems. Porphyry “denied that it was composed by the person to whom it is ascribed in its title, but rather by some individual living in Judaea at the time of that Antiochus who was surnamed Epiphanes; he further alleged that ‘Daniel’ did not foretell the future so much as he related the past, and lastly that whatever he spoke of up till the time of Antiochus contained authentic history, whereas anything he may have conjectured beyond that point was false, inasmuch as he would not have foreknown the future.”
This is a loose quotation from Jerome, translator of the Bible into Latin (Vulgate). And we must be thankful for these apologetic disapproving quotations, because they are our only sources of this Porphyry’s book about Daniel. 100 years later, after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Emperor Theodosius II ordered all the copies of Porphyry book burned, not once, but twice! In 435 and then for good measure again in 448.
It took Christian theologians another 1400 years, until enlightenment, to acknowledge that Porphyry was right after all and his scholarship was sound. With the growing body of historical and archeological knowledge of the ancient Middle East it became ever more clear that Daniel is absolutely sketchy about the time when it was supposedly written. And here are some examples of blaring anachronisms and contradictions.
1) Daniel writes about Nebuchadnezzar “madness” but if anything such an episode is known only about Nabonidus.
2) Daniel treats Balshazzar as a king of Babylon, but he was never a king of Babylon, if anything he was possibly a crown prince .
3) Balshazzar also was emphatically not a son of Nabuchadnezzar, he was a son of Nabonidus.
4) Daniel claims that Dareius the Meade (this cognomen itself is anachronism) conquered Babylon while it is a well known fact that it was the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great who did it, after earlier battles Babylon opened its gates to him without a fight.
5) Dareius was not a son of Xerxes as Daniel claims, in reality Xerxes was a son of Dareius.
Thus the Book of Daniel is not only wrong about predicting the future beyond Antiochus Epiphanes as Porphyry observed, the book of Daniel is also completely wrong about the past, when it was supposedly written and about the events which should been fresh in the memory of the author.
This is, dear friends, the beginning and foundation of the apocalyptic genre. Source and inspiration of all those feverish, fiery and often bloody visions of the end of times. In reality it is a forgery and quite a sloppy forgery at that!
And that is unfortunately something many Americans might not know about the Bible even now. I am singling out our religious/fundamentalist compatriots because in the last several centuries especially American fundamentalist have been a steady source of apocalyptic excesses.
The Book of Daniel was the basis for Milerites (later known as Adventists) to calculate the end of the world. It played an important role for Jehovah witnesses and several other groups after them (Davidians or Peoples Temple).
Imagine selling all your property, upending your lives and waiting on hills (and it can be even more sinister - drinking Kool-Aid) and imagine that somewhere at the foundation of all of that nonsense is a sloppy forgery in which Babylon is conquered by Darius, Darius! That is why education matters in all aspects of life and also in theology and in faith!
On the other hand if we abandon this folly’s errand, this crazy idea that Daniel is predicting the future until now, and take a sober approach and perceive it as a literary product of a religious person (or a group of persons) who felt marginalized, alienated and attacked by a hegemonic foreign culture and religion, then the book of Daniel can offer us invaluable insights into human religious psyche and even possibly bring some sparks of hope to the extreme times and situations.
And that is what we will attempt to do this Sunday.